Make Yourself Memorable: Ask Great Questions

I met last week with a prospective student who I want to have in one of my future classes. Reason: She asked great questions.

Her questions were so well organized that each answer logically led to the next question as she skillfully accumulated information that will help her decide where to pursue her graduate degree. After the grilling, I complemented her on the thoughtful, well-researched questions. She clearly understood the importance of asking engaging, open-ended questions—not “yes” or “no” ones that yield little insight or meaningful information.

I told her about the many guest speakers in our classes who invariably praise those students who ask the best questions. I recalled a class session at Edelman. Before the evening was over, the head recruiter surprisingly showed up and asked me to identify one of the students who he wanted to meet. He explained that one of the guest speakers, a SVP of a major practice area, asked him to try to “recruit the young woman who asked the great questions.” That student, by the way, had three job offers before graduation, including one from Edelman.

When my class meets this week for the first time of the fall term, I plan to emphasize the importance of asking great questions. To help them do so, I’ll tap “The Five Key Steps for Helping You Ask Good Questions” from Global Digital Citizen, a non-profit organization helping young people succeed.

Here are the five key steps:

Focus: What specifically do I want to know? What information am I missing? Is this more than a simple YES or NO question? Am I going for deeper knowledge?

Purpose: Why am I asking this? Do I want to gather facts or opinions? Do I need simple clarification? Do I want to offer a different perspective?

Intent: How do I want people to respond? Do I want the answer to be of help to others? Am I asking to start an argument or open a discussion? Is the question superficial and not really useful or important? Am I asking out of frustration or curiosity? Do I really care about the answer? Am I willing to show respect/deference to the person I’m asking?

Framing: Am I using easily understandable terms and wording? Is my question neutral or does it contain bias or opinion? Is it too long or too short? Does it contain the focus of what I want to know? Does the question focus on only one thing? Is it muddled with other inquiries that don’t belong?

Follow-up: Do I have any more specific questions to add? Will the person I’m asking be available for other questions if need be? If I still don’t have the answer I need, what’s my plan? What can I do if I still don’t understand?

Bottom Line: Asking good questions gains more valuable information, demonstrates your interest and impresses prospective future employers.

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